IWD: Meet Lola & Velisa, the women conquering HR

8 March, 2023 / words by IALH Editorial Team

Interview with Lola Abitogun & Velisa Bowlay Williams

Photography by Chantal Azari, Hair by hauseofshee, Makeup by Zakiyah Shani

To mark International Women’s Day 2023 we interviewed 6 powerful and inspirational women all working in different career fields. Today’s profile is with Lola, the founder of a HR consultancy and Velisa, a Principal Employee Relations Partner. Together they co-host the Everybody Hates HR podcast.



What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Lola: For me, it’s an opportunity to shine a light on the day-to-day contributions of women in society – especially those that we often take for granted. It’s also an opportunity to refocus as a collective to make sure that we’re doing all we can to support and protect those women and girls around the world who need it most.

Velisa: To me it means an opportunity to highlight different types of women and the impact they have made promoting a change without always realising. Women are amazing.

What is your job now and how long have you been doing it?

Lola: I’m the Founder of a HR Consultancy. I’ve started the business about 18 months ago but I’ve work in HR for 6 years now.

Velisa: I am currently a Principal Employee Relations Partner, I’ve only been in my current role 5 months but specialised in Employee relations for the last 5 years and HR for 10 years.

How did you get into the job you do now?

Lola: I’m actually a career changer. I used to be a tax advisor! I worked really closely with lots of Heads of HR as clients and I was always more fascinated with what they did than what I did, and when I got the opportunity to go on secondment into a hybrid HR/tax role, I knew that I couldn’t go back to doing tax full time again. So I took the leap and made a career change. It was the best thing I’ve done for my career.

Velisa: I fell into HR, I worked for John Lewis as a student and caught myself being interested the HR stuff happening in the back office, I told a friend who ended up helping me get a summer apprenticeship in HR and I loved it, the rest is history! 

What do you most enjoy about your job?

Lola: Probably problem solving. I get to come up with solutions to challenges that my clients are dealing with which in turn enables them and their employees to do their very best work and be more successful. I love that about my job.

Velisa: I enjoy being a voice of calm and reason when things aren’t going great for an employee, it helps them through difficult times.

What advice would you give somebody who is interested in becoming a HR professional?

Lola: I would tell them to go for it! Experience is the most important thing in HR and it’s not always easy to get but you can always offer take on some HR responsibility in your current role or volunteer at a charity a few hours a week. That way, you can dip your toe in and see if you like it.

Velisa: The culture you work in will determine how much you enjoy employee relations so pick one wisely. 

Have you faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman?

Lola: Being in HR and working with the senior stakeholders that I do means that I’m often the only woman in the room. My age also means that I could also be the youngest by 10-20 years too. In the past I’ve felt like I had to justify myself to others as to why I was in the room. People (mainly men) have made assumptions about whether I’d have thick enough skin or be confident enough to stand in board rooms.

It used to bother me but now I really don’t care. I KNOW how good I am at what I do and the confidence that comes with that has enabled me to reach goals I never thought would be possible.

Velisa: Yes, I’ve worked in male dominated industries such as sales recruitment and tech so I often have to demonstrate a certain level of confidence and assertiveness to be heard and for my decisions to be final. 

Is the career you have now the one you dreamed of when you were younger? If not, what was it?

Lola: No, it’s not. I thought I’d be a lawyer but mostly because my mum said I had to. I would actually hate that job now.

Velisa: Ha! No I wanted to be a Choice FM Dj and presenter! 

If you could invite three inspirational women, dead or alive, to a dinner party, who would they be and why?

Lola: Issa Rae because I’ve followed her journey since her Awkward Black Girl web series days and her journey to where she is now is amazing. I really see a lot of myself her characters too.

Sara Marin (Finnish Prime Minister) mainly because I’d just love to know what is was like becoming Prime Minister of a country at 34. I think it must have been insane.

Rihanna because I’m convinced we would become best friends as soon as she met me.

Velisa: I would invite Rihanna because she just seems like a vibe and she’s achieved so much, she changed the makeup game with her inclusive approach to diversity so I think she would be great to speak to. I would invite Viola Davis because her biography is amazing, she is a woman of power and grace I think she would drop great gems and finally I would invite Candice Braithwaite she is a breath of fresh air I love listening to her and her book I am not your baby mother was so impactful on me for so many reasons.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Lola: Run your own race at your own pace. Don’t watch anybody else.

Velisa: Believe in yourself , be consistent and what is for you will never pass you.

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IALH Editorial Team


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